Police now say that Jeffrey Johnson, the disgruntled ex-employee who killed his former boss near the Empire State Building Friday morning, was facing eviction from his Upper East Side apartment, and he blamed his financial woes on victim Steve Ercolino. "This was the final straw that pushed him over the edge," a police source told the Post. "He was blaming the victim for being out of work, having no money and now having no apartment."
Johnson had worked at Hazan Import as a women's apparel designer for six years before being laid off during downsizing last year. Johnson and Ercolino were involved in an "ongoing dispute"—Hazan employee Irene Timan told the Times that Ercolino was uncomfortable with Johnson around the office. “As time goes by, you could walk down the hallway and see an elbow being thrown or a shoulder being shoved, or a comment,” she told them. Where Ercolino was laid back, Johnson was regimented and a "neat freak." Despite being smaller than him, Johnson "would taunt Steve, push him,” she said.
Although co-workers said he took the firing in stride, when Johnson was visiting the office on April 27 last year, he and Ercolino got into a fight on an elevator. “Steve was leaving the elevator, Jeff was walking in, and Jeff elbowed him,” Timan recalled. “Steve had finally had enough, so he grabbed Jeff by the throat, and said, ‘If you ever do anything like this again, I’m going to kill you.’ ” They both filed police reports against one another.
And as of recently, Johnson was no longer able to pay rent on his one-bedroom apartment at East 82nd Street, where he had lived for the last four years. He blamed Ercolino for being fired—in his police report against Ercolino, Johnson blamed the salesman for not selling enough of the items he had designed.
Neighbors and former co-workers have described Johnson as a friendless, mellow, loner with a very specific routine after his firing—every morning, he'd get dressed up in his tannish brown suit, get some McDonald's, then return home.
"Nobody knew him," his super Guillermo Suarez, who noted that Johnson never joined the tenants for drinks or barbecues in the backyard, told Newsday. "He was like a ghost. He never spoke to anybody." Johnson did spend a lot of time working on his illustrations T-shirt design company, St. Jolly T-Shirt Co., and he was an avid bird watcher who spent much time in Central Park tracking the red-tailed Hawks.
But friend Andreina Adames told Newsday that she knew Johnson as "kind" and "sensitive," and someone who "loved art more than anything." The two were friends for five years, and last Tuesday, she offered to take him to the Met to cheer him up because he appeared "depressed" and "quiet." "I knew he had things on his mind, but I didn't know what," she said. "He blamed [Ercolino] for a lot of his problems. He said he would have made money and had a better life if [Ercolino] wasn't against him."
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